US Embassy Staff To Become Arms Salesmen As Trump Loosens Weapons Export Policy

A bombshell Reuters report details a major policy change set to be put in place by the Trump administration as early as February, and could result in a massive uptick in arms proliferation and conflict escalation around the world. What's being described as a new "Buy American" plan will involve US diplomats and military attaches stationed across the globe essentially playing the role of middle men for American arms contractors and US defense sales, while also encouraging embassy staff to aggressively promote weapons purchases abroad and allowing for much greater leeway in terms of which foreign entities the US does business with.

Though it sounds like the plot from the movie War Dogs - itself based on true events involving Pentagon contractors' black market East European private gun running scheme - this plan could involve the mainstreaming of just the type of weapons trade previously considered sketchy and illegal, existing at the peripheries legally ambiguous covert ops and off the books contract deals. The plan would take the seedy underbelly of the international arms trade into the light of day as official US policy, and would further deputize American diplomats as at the forefront of arms deals.

 

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The 2016 movie War Dogs. Image source: Warner Bros. Pictures via The Daily Mail

 

As crazy as this scenario sounds, Reuters has some jaw dropping selections in its report:

A key policy change would call for embassy staffers around the world to act essentially as a sales force for defense contractors, actively advocating on their behalf. It was unclear, however, what specific guidelines would be established...

“We want to see those guys, the commercial and military attaches, unfettered to be salesmen for this stuff, to be promoters,” said the senior administration official, who is close to the internal deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity...

Trump, a Republican, has the legal authority to direct government embassy “security assistance officers,” both military personnel and civilians, to do more to help drive arms sales. ...embassy staffers would engage more aggressively with foreign counterparts to push for U.S. arms sales and brief visiting senior U.S. officials so they can help advance pending deals, according to a person familiar with the matter.

"Unfettered" is an interesting word in relation to arms proliferation, especially considering the plan is to encompass not only small arms sales but fighter jets, drones, warships, tanks, troop carriers, artillery and every conceivable weapons system produced by major defense contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, or Raytheon - all of which who are no doubt ecstatic over the loosening of policy in what is a weapons lobbyist's dream. 

Reuters notes that shares of the big five US defense companies are trading at or near all-time highs as clearly the "strategy of having the Pentagon and the U.S. State Department take a more active role in securing foreign arms deals could especially benefit" precisely these major contractors.

The big 5 defense stocks from Obama's 2nd term into Trump's first months. 

 

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U.S. defense stocks easily outperformed the broader market from the beginning of Obama's second term and through the start of the Trump presidency. Both have greatly loosened restrictions of arms sales abroad. Source: Market Watch (above), Statista (below)

 

 

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This "whole of government" approach to promoting defense deals will also ease rules and regulations on the export of US military hardware under the DoD, and in the private sector will seek to give manufacturers greater independent decision making over with whom they do business. Of course, current regulations focus heavily on human rights and mitigating the potential for US systems falling into the hands of war criminals and sanctioned regimes. Though it's unclear precisely how the new initiative would preserve the balance of increasing sales abroad while avoiding deals with unsavory actors, it would expand sales with non-NATO allies and partners (like Pakistan, Egypt, The Philippines, etc...) with less restrictions related to human rights issues. 

Reuters describes the Trump policy as relegating human rights to the back seat; however, the report also traces the trend of profit over human rights back to the Obama administration, citing that "Foreign weapons sales soared during his [Obama's] tenure, with the United States retaining its position as the world’s top arms supplier." The report continues:

Foreign military sales in fiscal 2017, comprising much of Trump’s first year in office and the final months of Obama’s term, climbed to $42 billion, compared to $31 billion in the prior year, according to the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency.

The Trump administration has already moved forward on several controversial sales. Those include a push for $7 billion in precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia despite concerns they have contributed to civilian deaths in the Saudi campaign in Yemen’s civil war and the unblocking of $3 billion in arms to Bahrain, which was also held up by human rights concerns under Obama.

We might add that the "oil for weapons" US relationship with Saudi Arabia and the other oil and gas gulf monarchies has been an unfortunate hallmark of US-Mideast policy spanning many decades and across administrations all the way back to Eisenhower. But it appears the weapons spigot will only now flow freer - especially in competition with other major advanced weapons manufacturers like Russia, China, and Israel - and as Trump seeks to create jobs at home by tapping new markets abroad while also reigning in the the US trade deficit from a six-year high of $50 billion.

Before the plan is fully enacted it must clear a process that includes the written policy draft - which was coordinated among State, Pentagon, Commerce, and NSC officials - being approved by senior cabinet members after which the president is expected to sign off. From there a 60-day review period will remain during which changes may occur, after which the plan could be finalized in the form of a presidential "National Security Decision Directive," according to sources cited in the report.